The Distance represents a grand creative leap for bassist-composer Michael Formanek, following two widely lauded ECM releases featuring his quartet with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver. The new album showcases his texturally rich compositions for the dynamic 18-piece big band he has playfully dubbed Ensemble Kolossus. The project saw some of the most distinctive musicians on the New York scene bonding to realize Formanek’s epic design, as he re-imagined what a big band can be. Channeling sounds from the classic to the modern, he also composed for individually expressive soloists in the Ellingtonian tradition. Along with the dark-hued romanticism of the title track, The Distance features the “Exoskeleton” suite – a kaleidoscopic musical experience in which Formanek’s bold, beautiful vision for 21st-century large-ensemble jazz comes vibrantly to life.
Both The Rub and Spare Change (2010) and Small Places (2012), Formanek’s two previous ECM albums, received rare five-star reviews in DownBeat magazine. In conceiving The Distance, Formanek was inspired sonically by such far-flung sources as the massively resonant chords in Messiaen’s organ works and the expansive jazz orchestrations of Charles Mingus, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill. As The New York Times described it, Formanek’s music is “graceful in its subversions, even sumptuous.”
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